Barre has always had a grocery store.
Barre City has always had a downtown grocery store providing fresh meats, produce, and affordable packaged goods. Post-WWII, it was the A&P and then it was the Grand Union. But, in the early 2000’s, the Grand Union closed due to reasons unrelated to market (its former manager cites the store as being the most profitable in the region). Its closure left a noticeable gap in the availability of quality, fresh and packaged foods available in the downtown at affordable prices. While corner stores, community markets, and convenience stores exist in and around the downtown, they offer a limited choice of items in small packaging priced for convenience not value.
Without a grocery store, access to fresh and affordable food is limited.
While there are grocery shopping options just several miles outside of Barre’s downtown, bus or car is required to reach them. Today, some downtown residents with limited means of transportation walk to Rite Aid and Dollar General to purchase their basic necessities and canned and packaged foods, often paying more per pound for their food than others who can easily access larger markets by bus or car several miles away. While public transportation is available, buses run every half hour making it difficult for busy families to work, care for their children, and shop with convenience. Fresh meats, produce and affordable, healthy packaged foods are not available within walking distance to most downtown residents. And, dry goods sold in bulk quantities is available 20 minutes away by bus at Hannafords in South Barre and Hunger Mountain Coop in Montpelier.
Barre lacks a community anchor which grocery stores often provide.
At the same time, residents in the surrounding environ and daytime workers in downtown Barre miss the convenience of shopping a full-service grocery in the downtown. Since Grand Union closed, residents have consistently pointed to the need for a grocery store in the downtown. In addition to wanting access to food, residents want a center for community life and a hub for social activity - a role which a downtown market has historically provided in most downtown communities.
The community expresses its desire for a grocery store.
This community sentiment bubbled to the surface in a 2004 market study, commissioned by the downtown Barre merchants association (The Barre Partnership). Results of a community survey pointed to the desire for a downtown store. The report highlighted this sentiment and confirmed that grocery stores located in the downtown do indeed contribute to a vibrant community center.
Attempts to attract a privately-owned grocery store come up short.
In 2009, the City decided to purchase, raze, and support the redevelopment of the former Brooks Drug building (now the City Place development). City Place was seen as an opportunity to bring a privately-owned private grocery store to downtown Barre. When those efforts did not turn up any takers, a core group of Barre residents came together in July 2012 to explore the feasibility of starting a co-operatively owned grocery store with the goal of meeting Barre’s diverse need for affordable, convenient, local, and healthy food.
And, with that, the Granite City Co-op, Inc., dba Granite City Grocery was born!
Recognizing that noone is going to come in and meet our needs possibly better than we can, we stepped up to the plate. We incorporated on July 31, 2012, raised money for our market and feasibility study from grants and community contributions, garnered over 600 pledges from people in the community who want to become owners, seated a founding board, and are bringing a market analysis consultant to Barre in July 2013 to analyze a short list of potential sites. While the conversation about starting a community-owed grocery store was prompted by City Place, we have learned that City Place may not be as promising a location as first thought. We have identified several other locations that could possibly serve as a better location. We look forward to learning from our market analyst which site will work best for us. Most importantly, we are committed to a downtown location.
For too long, downtown Barre has lacked a grocery store. If we want a healthy community, we need to invest in healthy options that are affordable and accessible. And, with the high probability of at least 200 to 300 full-time workers moving their offices to downtown Barre in the next 2 years, the time might just be ripe to build a community-owned grocery store.